Alexandra Tracy, Green Finance Advisor of Friends of the Earth (HK)

You may not know this, but the first recorded successful instance of crowdfunding occurred in 1997, when Marillion, a British rock band, funded their reunion tour through online donations from fans.  Following this success, ArtistShare became the first dedicated crowdfunding platform in 2000. Since then, many more platforms have been set up and the crowdfunding industry has grown significantly.

Nowadays, biodiversity and conservation projects all over the world are also turning to crowdfunding to generate the funding needed to support their work.  In low income countries, especially, where government resources for conservation are limited, this offers an opportunity to tap new sources of funding, even accessing donors who are thousands of miles away!

Stand with Palau

Crowdfunding was an important element of the actions of the Pacific island nation of Palau in 2014 to create a marine protection area in its territorial waters.  Conservation is central to Palau’s government, whose constitution requires its leaders to “take positive action to conserve a beautiful, healthful and resourceful natural environment.”  Its waters are home to more than 1,300 species of tropical fish and 700 species of coral, as well as seven giant clam species and some of the world’s most extensive seagrass beds.

Its proposed national marine sanctuary would cover an area of 230,000 square miles – equivalent in size to the state of Texas.  Establishing the sanctuary required significant investment in technology to maintain and enforce the protection of the entire area, such as drones, satellites and passive monitoring buoys, as well as a fleet of boats and planes.  In addition, ongoing capital was needed to research the effectiveness of the protected area, publicise the new rules and educate locals about them. 

To help cover some of these costs, Palau created the “Stand with Palau” crowdfunding campaign.  Through an online crowdfunding platform called Indiegogo, the programme raised more than US$100,000 from nearly 600 donors around the world, marking the first time that a nation state has mobilised this sort of capital for marine conservation.

Funds and Awareness

In the years since, crowdfunding has become an increasingly popular way of reaching potential donors for a wide range of conservation efforts, from protection of single species to preservation of entire ecosystems, as in Palau.  The capital raised may well be small compared to more traditional funding mechanisms, such as via governments or larger foundations.  However, project managers say the benefits of a campaign also include raising awareness of the conservation efforts.  It can be a way to reach a new – and global – audience and inspire more people to support the project goals and engage with their own networks to spread the message more widely.